By GRANT MAYNARD

PETER Whitfield is no stranger to the importance of water.

As a former irrigating horticulturist, the 86-year-old’s livelihood depended on it.

He is also acutely aware of water’s all-encompassing importance to life on the planet.

We drink it to quench our thirst; and we rely on it to produce our food, our clothing and our shelter.

It is the cornerstone of life itself. 

So, Peter asks, why is it so hard for the powers that be to grasp how important it is to ensure a plentiful and steady supply of the stuff?

He was recently moved to contact the ‘Weekly after reading our May 22 edition article headed ‘Peter has a bold plan to drought-proof Australia’, featuring Peter Bourn, a former Mildura resident now living in South Australia’s Riverland, and his plan to bring water from the much wetter north of the continent to the relatively parched south.

Dubbed ‘The Argyle Scheme’, Peter Bourn’s plan is to use excess water from Lake Argyle, in the far north of Western Australia and pipe it thousands of kilometres south-east to the Menindee Lakes and several points between, including a branch line to St George, Queensland, and the E.J. Beardmore Dam with its Lake Kajorabie. In fact, he is proposing a network of pipelines, not unlike blood vessels in the human body. It is an analogy he is more than happy with. After all, he points out, water is the lifeblood of agriculture.

Under his plan other places to be serviced by the pipeline would include Alice Springs in the Northern Territory; Mount Isa (Moon
darra Dam) and Barcaldine-Longreach (Thompson River) in Queensland; Gunnedah in NSW (Lake Keepit Dam) and South Australia’s Leigh Creek.

The proposal would mean the construction of at least one new dam to service The Alice, but much of the infrastructure to contain the extra water exists already.

The aim, Peter explained, is to drought-proof more than half of the Australian continent by using the pipeline to top-up existing
infrastructure (dams), rivers and lakes in the event of a lack of rainfall, or as demand required. 

Peter Whitfield has developed a strikingly similar concept in many ways, once again harvesting monsoonal rains from the north and piping them south to feed the majority of the continent below his imagined arterial pipeline from high in the north-west of Western Australia, tapping into the Fitzroy River, east to a river-rich region in northern Queensland, inland between Townsville and Cairns.

At right angles to the west-east line are a series of north-south pipelines. One would service Queensland and New South Wales, another the Northern Territory and South Australia, and the third would help open up vast areas of eastern WA for irrigation, and include a spur line to service Kalgoorlie, Perth and even Fremantle.

Peter was taken with the similarities between the two proposals, although his relies more heavily on a man-made delivery system of pipes, whereas Peter Bourn’s example, while also relying on pipes to some extent, would top up existing waterways and water storages.

Both schemes would open the heart of Australia, long thought to be too dry for crops.

Peter Whitfield was also interested to learn that Peter Bourn has tried, as unsuccessfully as he has, to get politicians interested.

“I have sent my plan to many politicians during the past two and half years,” Peter Whitfield revealed.

“Scott Morrison had it for about two and a half months before he passed it onto the Nationals leader (Michael McCormack).

“He wrote to me saying the Federal Government realised that it had to start storing more of Australia’s water and that they would start building dams.”

Peter claims his plan could eventually water every hectare of Australia.

“The Fitzroy dam (on the Fitzroy River in northern WA) and hydro scheme is the first project that needs to be constructed,” he said.

“Next is the west-east catchment main.”

Peter says once those two projects are complete, the subsequent development can be staged to create productive land as it moves crawls across the continent.

“With the dam completed and the first section of the west-east main complete, water would flow into the first section of the north-south pipeline and with the aid of smaller laterals would supply water to all the arable land in WA,” he said.

“The water mains would have a series of shut-off valves at intervals along the pipeline, to allow sections of land to be developed in stages. It would also allow extensions to be made to the main pipeline in readiness for the provision of laterals and more land to be opened up in the future,” Peter explained.

“Building the system like this, by the time it is complete there will be many new towns created, along with employment.

“Also, doing it this way, the pipeline will be able to generate income as it is rolled out, allowing the project to be paid off as it is built.

“By building and developing as you go, you make the project more affordable.”

Peter is also confident that unemployment for those who want to work will be a thing of the past such, he says, would be the power of the project to create jobs as more and more of the continent is opened up to primary production.

For this project to succeed economically, Peter says construction would have to proceed 24/7.

“This would mean three eight-hour shifts…once again creating employment and reducing the cost of the machinery involved because it would never be sitting idle,” he said.

“At present, a lot of expensive leased machinery sits idle longer than it is in use.”

Not an efficient way, Peter argues, to make it pay for itself.

“If we want Australia to be the most prosperous country in the world, with the highest living standards, we must go ahead with a project like this as a matter of urgency,” Peter said.

And, for those who would question both the sanity of such a scheme, and our ability as a nation to get it done, Peter offers the following sobering thoughts:

• In 1898, Charles O’Connor, one of our nation’s greatest engineers, started his project to pump water from the Mandaring Reservoir in the Darling Range, 30 kilometres north-east of Perth, more than 600 kilometres to the Kalgoorlie goldfields. He finished it four years later. Today, that pipeline carries 23 million litres of water daily and is still a lifeline for the West Australian goldfields. 

• Amazingly the Ord River Scheme (the water source for Peter Bourn’s proposal) doesn’t use up to four billion available litres of water a day!

• And, the Fitzroy River, the water source for Peter Whitfield’s scheme, has 50 times the water of the Ord.

• Only 10 per cent of the Ord River Scheme’s Lake Argyll water is used for irrigation. 45 tonnes per second, or four billion litres a day, is pushed out into the Timor Sea. 

“What a waste!” Peter says.